Kids Who Cook = A Recipe for Good Health

June 29, 2017 Brenda Manfredi, MD

benefits-of-kids-cooking

Showing your child how to make scrambled eggs for breakfast or whip up simple dinners isn't just a way to get them on "Chopped Junior." Kids who learn how to cook not only earn a great lifelong skill, but are better poised to enjoy the benefits of a healthy diet.

Obesity affects many children in the United States--about one in six, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "A good way to help prevent obesity is to eat more home-cooked meals. This will emphasize a variety of nutritious whole foods, instead of restaurant meals where you can't control calories or portions, or fast food loaded with fat and sugar," says Brenda Manfredi, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at St. Joseph Health Medical Group. "Research has shown that children are more apt to try and enjoy healthy meals if they have a hand in preparing them. That's because cooking a meal gives kids a feeling of ownership and pride. It's something they spent time and energy creating."

Parents who teach their children to cook can also take the opportunity to teach them the value of healthy foods. "If your child helps you make a salad, you can talk about how the spinach makes their bones strong and the olive oil in the dressing keeps their heart healthy," Dr. Manfredi says. "That can build positive associations and set a habit of choosing healthy foods."

If you want your child to be your sous chef, Dr. Manfredi recommends some age-appropriate kitchen tasks, as well as some helpful kitchen tips:

  • Involve children in every aspect of the meal, from shopping to serving it. "It gives them a more complete overview of what it takes to plan a meal, you can teach them how to select produce and they can get more familiar with new foods and flavors," Dr. Manfredi says.
  • Keep it simple. Easy recipes with few ingredients are especially good for younger chefs or kids new to the kitchen.
  • Never forget kitchen safety. "Depending on your child's age, make sure they know how to properly use an oven, small appliances and sharp objects such as knives--or stay away from them if they are too young," Dr. Manfredi says. "One thing children of all ages should know: how to wash their hands with soap and warm water before cooking."
  • Plan ahead. Don't schedule your child's first time in the kitchen at the end of a busy weekday when everyone is tired from work and school. "It's harder to be patient when a child makes the normal mistakes that come along with learning something new, and kids can be messy, so you don't want to be left with a huge clean-up job to tackle after dinner," Dr. Manfredi says.

"Healthy eating habits aren't the only benefits of getting your kids in the kitchen," Dr. Manfredi says. "Research has found that cooking can help children boost reading and math skills as they work through recipes, and their self-esteem grows as they become more confident making meals. Plus, it can be a great bonding time for you and your child as you work together to prepare something the whole family can enjoy."

Sample kitchen tasks for:

Preschoolers

  • Wash produce
  • Pour pre-measured ingredients into bowls
  • Stir doughs and batters
  • Help make salad--tear up lettuce by hand, add toppings such as nuts or veggies, help pour dressing

Young school-age children

  • Help read the recipe and fill up measuring cups and spoons
  • Learn to crack an egg
  • Garnish food and set the table
  • Knead doughs and make shapes out of them
  • Older school-age children/preteens
  • Follow recipes on their own
  • Start using small knives or graters under adult supervision
  • Do kitchen prep on their own--get necessary ingredients and kitchen tools ready, preheat the oven, grease pans, etc.
  • Use more small appliances when cooking (can openers, mixers, food processors, etc.)

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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